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FEBRUARY 2017

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Religious Pride is a Real Deal Breaker

 

Matthew 23:1-12

(1) Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,

(2) saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.

(3) Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

(4) For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

(5) But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

(6) They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,

(7) greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'

(8) But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.

(9) Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

(10) And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

(11) But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

(12) And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 

Pride Hinders the Gospel

I wonder how many people have rejected the Lord because of the pride of those who claim to be His followers?  What is pride?  It seems to result from a preoccupation with self.  It is the worship of the trinity, ME, MYSELF, AND I.  It caused the downfall of Satan and through Satan it caused the downfall of Eve and then Adam.  Through Adam and Eve it caused the downfall of society.  It is why I personally am a sinner who needed a Savior.  The only person who was not filled with pride when He was born into this world is the Lord, but of course His Father was God and not Adam. 

 

You will notice in our passage for this week that the scribes (those who could write) and Pharisees (those who taught the law) were total hypocrites.  A hypocrite is someone who is an actor—he pretends to be something that he is not.  These hypocrites didn't do what they were teaching.  They didn't bear the burdens of others but they placed burdens upon them that God never intended for them to bear.  They did everything so that they could be seen since they wanted honor and the preferred places at their feasts.  They wanted titles.  They wanted to be great.

 

Nebuchadnezzar

There was a man like that called Nebuchadnezzar.  You can read about him in Daniel chapters 2,3, and 4.  He was a man of great ability.  The Lord gave him a dream one night about a statue.  Daniel interpreted the dream and told him that the statue represented kingdoms.  The head of the statue was gold.  Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was that head of gold.  Rather than being humbled by that dream, he exalted himself and made a statue like the one in his dream and then required people to bow down to it or worship it.  In essence they were worshiping him. You will remember that Daniel had three friends who wouldn't bow and were thrown into a burning fiery furnace.  However, the Lord protected them in the midst of that fire.  But Nebuchadnezzar had another dream that Daniel interpreted.  This one had to do with being humbled because he had been lifted up in pride and was taking credit for all the things God had allowed him to do in Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar ended up eating grass like a beast for seven years because of his pride.  At the end of seven years God restored him to his Kingdom.  He restored his mind.  And now he comes to understand that whoever exalts himself will be humbled.  In Daniel 4:37 we read, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”

 

It took seven years for Nebuchadnezzar to be humbled and to find out that he was subject to Daniel's God, the only God.  I marvel that Nebuchadnezzar will likely be in heaven while many of our religious teachers today will likely miss out.  They say and do not.  They use religion for power and monetary gain.  They make being a Christian something you can sign up for at the local dime store without any conviction or conversion. 

 

Supposed Humility

Pride affects us all. We can be proud of our supposed humility.   Those of you who are reading this and who disagree with what I am saying are already asking the question, “Who does he think he is? What makes him think he is right and the rest of us who are so successful are wrong?  Are you sure that you aren't the one who is lifted up in pride?”  I certainly ask myself the same questions. 

 

Lord, grant me the wisdom and humility to listen to other's opinions, let me read the word of God with an open mind.  Help me to practice what I preach.  Let me be light in a dark world.

 

Meditation for the week of February 5, 2017

She Hath done what She Could

 

Mark 14:8 She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial.

 

Great expectations

Most of us have dreams and expectations when we are younger.  Sometimes we want to do things that we simply cannot do.  In some cases it is because of lack of money and in some cases we simply don't know how to do what we want to do.   When we realize that we are not able to do the big things that we wanted to do, we sometimes forget to do the littler things that we can do. 

 

Mary of Bethany did what she could  

Oh that each of us would follow her example.  What can we do if we love the Lord? 

We can:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
(16) Rejoice always, (Count your blessings)
(17) pray without ceasing, (Don't give up on God)
(18) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (Quit complaining)
(19) Do not quench the Spirit. (Don't tell God how to do His business, let God tell you)
(20) Do not despise prophecies. (Don't pick and choose what you want to believe)
(21) Test all things; hold fast what is good. (Don't be hasty in making judgments)
(22) Abstain from every form of evil. (Don't assume that just because everyone does it, you should do it)

 

These are some things that we who say we love the Lord, can and should do.  While we are waiting for the Lord to allow us to be popular, accepted and successful (things He has never promised), we can and should do what we can.  And actually, what we can do might be more valuable than what we wanted to do but cannot do.

 

Mary's act of devotion was planned.  She had obtained fragrant anointing oil worth about a year's wages.  If a penny was a day's work, she had obtained oil worth 300 day's work.  And then she went and wasted it.  She poured it on the Lord.  All the disciples criticized her but Judas seemed to have the biggest problem with what she did. However, the Lord didn't criticize her.  He commended her.  But Judas was a thief and had just been deprived of a large sum of cash that he could have skimmed for himself.  Mary's act of devotion seemed to be the thing that finally tipped him over and caused him to sell the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.

 

So while what she did might seem insignificant to us, it really was a sacrificial act of devotion.  It was something she could do.  And she did it.  She apparently believed the Lord when He spoke of his coming crucifixion and planned ahead for it

 

What Can We Do?

Are we giving every man an answer with regard to the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15)?  Have we gotten baptized (immersed) to show our public identification with the Lord?  Do we remember the Lord “often” to show our devotion? Do we allow the Lord to be the head in our churches or are we telling Him how to run His church?  Are we growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord?  Do people want to know why we are rejoicing and praying and submitting to the word of God?  Do they wonder why there are certain activities we avoid and certain people that we do not call our friends even when we are trying to help them? 

 

We should not let what we can't do discourage us from doing what we can do.  It just might lead to many people being in heaven.  Mary's devotion is a part of the Gospel and wherever it is preached, what she did is remembered.  She did what she could and it turned out to be a great work of devotion.  There is no doubt that many people have heard that Christ died for their sins because Mary did what she could and anointed the Lord for His burial.

 

Meditation for the week of  February 12, 2017

Why?

 

John 14:15 "If you love Me, keep (guard) My commandments.

 

The Options

Since the Bible is so clear that “keeping” or guarding God's commandments brings blessing and rejecting His commandments brings disaster, why is it so easy to stray from the straight and narrow way?  We know by experience and by observation that it is easier to disobey God than it is to obey Him even though He says that His commands are not grievous or burdensome (1 John 5:3).  What are the commands that we are to keep in the New Testament?  There is one command in two parts and those parts are found in 1 John 3:23, “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”  We can read this basic command through the Old Testament and the New.  “Love God, and love one another” is a concise summary of these two commands.  Our problem is that we would rather believe what we “think is right” than believe what God says.  Because of that we are easily convinced to believe lies by the Father of lies who is Satan himself.

 

Examples

Eve was given one command in the Garden of Eden.  Just  one.  It wasn't like she was given the IRS code or the government regulations having to do with commerce.  Her command was to refrain from eating the fruit from one tree in the middle of the Garden.  If she had known what we know now, do you suppose she would have been enticed to eat it?  I think she still would have eaten. The idea that she could be “as gods or mighty ones” which meant that she could determine what was right and what was wrong was a great temptation.  Even if she had understood the long-term consequences of her decision, the short-term satisfaction of being in charge of good and evil, would have been difficult to resist.   

 

So why did people before the flood so quickly turn away from God and become wicked?  As they turned away from God, they didn't become more intelligent or sophisticated or loving.  No, as they turned away from God, there was violence in the earth.  The imagination of man's heart was evil and God wished that he had never made man.  His beautiful creation had corrupted itself.  People had become violent and wicked and this was not what God had intended so there was a flood and a new beginning.

 

It didn't take long before people born to Noah began developing their own way of approaching their own concept of god.  God had to restrain them by confusing their language at the tower of Babel.  Even Israel, God's redeemed people, found it easy to turn to idlols though they knew it was wrong.  At the end of the period of the judges, every man in Israel was doing what was right in his own eyes. Why do people constantly turn away from the real God to serve fake gods which really meant they were worshiping Satan himself? 

 

Reasons for Turning Aside

I believe that short-term pleasure was one of the main reasons for worshiping the gods of nature associated with Baal.  Most of this worship was centered around the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth, the seasons and fertility.  People who worshiped this way had fun and were often not restrained even though Baal sometimes needed to be appeased through cruel sacrifices and rituals.

 

Adults have trouble with peer pressure just like children do and I believe in some cases they wanted to worship Baal so that they could fit in with their neighbors.  In some cases, they wanted to intermarry with the people who worshiped Baal and so they worshiped the gods of the people whose daughters they found attractive. 

 

Many people simply rebel at being accountable to the creator God of heaven and will not willingly worship Him.  Worshiping Jehovah and the Lord Jesus requires discipline and dying to self.  Most of us are self-centered.  You can't be self-centered if you are going to love God and love your neighbor.

 

Do we Worship Baal Today?

The answer is that we haven't gone so far in most evangelical churches to actually worship idols (although some orthodox Christian churches do).  However, in trying to make Christianity relevant, we have watered down the Gospel.  Most are simply told to say a prayer or make a decision to be saved and they never get their eye off of themselves.  Of course, everyone must decide that they want to be saved before they are saved, but they still must be awakened to their sin. They must look to the Lord and to the Lord alone for salvation.  They must actually repent and believe (trust).  Then after we are saved we need to get baptized, read the Bible and pray.  We need conversations with God.  We should associate with those who are not trying to be all things to everyone but with those who are being faithful to the Lord even when that is costly and not popular.  It really is pretty easy to disobey even for a true Christian. I suppose the reason for that is that we still "want to be as gods." 

 

Meditation for the week of February 19, 2017

Wouldn't it be Great to have the Gift of Healing?

 

James 5:14-15 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

 

Mark 6:13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

 

What does James Mean?

The passage in James has been difficult for me to explain or understand.  On the one hand it would seem that members of the church should not need a medical program. They should be able to be healed by the elders of the church who should anoint them with oil and pray for them.  Of course, practical experience seems to contradict this understanding of the passage.  There are those who make a religious business of claiming to be healers.  Most of them have been proven to be charlatans.  I have seen miraculous answers to healing prayers, but I have never known any one person who had the ability to heal others with a prayer of faith. 

 

Some have said that the ceremony mentioned in James is just metaphorical for using the best medicine available (oil was a medicine) and then praying for the individual.  I do recommend doing this, but I do not see that as the interpretation of this passage.  You will notice in Mark 6, that when the Lord sent out his twelve apostles, they did exactly what is described in James.  The same word for anointing is used and the same word for oil is used.  So whatever the Lord commissioned in Mark, seems to be what James is describing.  So why doesn't it work today like it did then?

 

Possible Explanations

The ability to do miracles on a regular basis by individuals occurs on a very limited basis in the Bible.  Moses did miracles.  Elijah and Elisha did miracles.  The Lord did miracles and the early church was able to do miracles.  The gift of healing is mentioned as one of those graces given to the church in 1 Corinthians 12.  In each case, the purpose of the miracle was to prove to Israel that the person speaking to them had the authority of God behind them.  In each case Israel was in bondage and needed to be freed from that bondage.  But the miracles did not prevail for long periods of time.  There will be a future time when the Lord will have two prophets doing miracles again.  Those prophets will be slain just as the Lord was slain (Revelation 11). 

 

Since the Jews need signs while the Gentiles (rest of us) need wisdom or logical reasoning (see 1 Corinthians 1:22), Moses did miracles to prove that he was speaking for God.  The miracles should have had convinced the Egyptians (gentiles) as well but since Pharaoh considered himself a god, he never really believed Moses.  The Jews should have been convinced that they needed to turn from idol worship back to the worship of Jehovah under Elijah and Elisha.  The Jews should have understood that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God when He was here. They should have turned from their ritualistic seal-serving religion to the actual worship of the Lord.  The Jews should have been convinced after the resurrection that the apostles who could heal were the real deal and were telling them the truth about the Lord.  While most of the healing in the early church was done by the middle of the narrative of the history of the early church that we call the Acts of the Apostles, yet Paul still healed in Acts 28.  1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear that as the church reaches maturity (when it becomes a man or adult), the sign gifts or miracles would fade away.  While the gift of healing is not mentioned specifically in 1 Corinthians 13, I think the gifts that are mentioned are representative and not all inclusive  I think the gift of healing as seen in the book of James has now passed away.  I wish it hadn't, but I think it has.

 

Should we Anoint Today?

I see no harm in performing the ceremony today particularly where a person's illness is connected with specific sins that need to be confessed.  But when the ceremony does not work as hoped, do not think that God has failed or has broken His promise. The sign gifts passed away when they were no longer needed to confirm the message to the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah.  As a nation (not as individuals), the Jews have rejected their Messiah and no miracle is going to change their mind.  Since James is considered by many to be the earliest New Testament epistle and since it was written while many of the apostles were yet alive, I believe that the ceremony for healing on the part of elders (who may actually have been apostles) is probably no longer operative.  We know that when Peter wrote his 1st epistle he considered himself to be an elder (1 Peter 5:1).  The purpose of all miracles is to convince the Jews as well as the world that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  I know that seeing a miracle would never have convinced me to believe on the Lord.  But reading the Bible did.

 

My prayer is that my sick friends will be healed.  However, I do not have the ability to heal them.  I hope that does not stumble any one since that gift was needed in the early church to give credibility to the apostles, but is not needed now.  We have the Bible.  And if we won't believe the Bible, we won't believe in the Lord because of miracles.  I am convinced of that. 

 

Meditation for the week of February 26, 2017